10th October 2017 is World Mental Health Day. I started writing this article about 3 hours ago, and it turned into a rant about how awareness isn’t solving the mental ill-health of the population and we need to change the way we treat mental health, stop under funding it and actually give people the help they need and deserve. But just writing about how angry I am about the way mental health provisioning has been chronically underfunded and is insufficient for people’s needs isn’t going to help anyone so I deleted all the anger (apart from that bit there) and wrote about the things that help me with my mental health in the hope that they might help someone else.
1. Talk it out
Mental health and mental wellbeing is something that is almost constantly on my mind considering I have dealt with my own mental ill-health for the past several years. I have very very recently become much more comfortable with talking about my mental health and where I’m at and where I am struggling and what I feel. I have always appreciated the importance of talking to people, sharing your concerns and just getting it off your chest but I have finally really valued and found importance and help in the simple act of just telling someone “I’m struggling with my anxiety today” or “I’m feeling really down today”. Talking has saved me so many times and I am infinitely grateful for the people who take the time to listen to me when I’m struggling, they have helped me more then they know.
Awareness of mental health and the importance of mental wellbeing has skyrocketed with recent campaigns by Time to Change, the Heads Together campaign and their presence at the London Marathon 2017, and the fact that barely a day goes by that mental health is mentioned in the news in some way or another. And this helps. As much as it might feel like it doesn’t, the fact that we are all more able to talk to each other about how we’re feeling and our mental wellbeing helps us all. Being able to just share how you’re feeling helps so so much and it is really underappreciated sometimes as to how helpful it really can be.
I dread to think about the person I would be and where I would be if I didn’t run. Running is the time I get to be quiet, and alone, and to sort out all my thoughts to try and make some sense of them however tangled they might be. Then when you add the sense of achievement and the endorphins you get after you exercise, you realise how much exercise really can positively change your mood. There are days when I wake up and it’s difficult to breathe because everything feels so close and heavy and it’s like I’m wading through deep water up to my chest and I can’t get out. And then I pull on my trainers and go outside. Whether I run or whether I walk to the end of my road and sit on a bench for half an hour it helps. Being outside and moving your body helps. Being inside at the gym, and moving your body helps. Do something. It gives you a moment to step away from your thoughts and to focus on something else and gives you something to be proud of afterwards.
3. Go Outside
This is kind of related to the last point but if I’m having a really hard time going outside whether it is for 5 minutes or an hour really can give me a little bit of a boost. Feeling the air on your face, hearing your feet hit the ground, crunch some leaves, squelch in some mud can make the world of a difference. I think it’s a sense of realisation that there is more then what lives in your head. Being outside reduces stress, helps us to relax, improves cognition, including memory and attention span, and reduces symptoms of depression. Even if you can’t get out for long, if you’re having a bad time try and spend sometime outdoors, it is likely to lift your mood and make things feel a little more manageable.
4. Write it down
I have kept a journal for a long long time, since I was about 11 or 12 maybe? So I have become used to turning to writing out my thoughts when something goes well, or when something goes badly, or when I just want to express how I feel and work it all out. But honestly, just getting out what you feel, even if you don’t know why or how to change it really helps. This might help if you’re not comfortable with talking to other people about your mental health or how you’re feeling, because this is for you, it’s to try to untangle those thoughts that just seem to curl and twist around themselves in your head. Try it, honestly, it does work.
5. Set Goals
These don’t have to be big goals. Set achievable goals. Try setting goals for today and tomorrow if things seem insurmountable. Some days that might be getting out of bed and remembering to clean your teeth. It might be going to all of your lectures at uni, or spending an hour at the new society meeting that you’re feeling too anxious to go to. It might be going for a walk or a run and being outside. Don’t make a list 50 points long and overwhelm yourself, make it realistic and achievable and break it all down. Finishing those goals, and getting to tick them off the list means that the day wasn’t a failure. Something was achieved and sometimes that’s all you need to make the day better.
6. Accept that there are things that you might not be able to do
Now this one does suck a little bit. But if you’re struggling with your mental health there will be things that you can’t do, or if you try it will be detrimental to you. And that’s more than okay. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not doing something. There is nothing wrong with putting yourself and your health before social engagements or extra responsibilities at work or extra responsibilities at school. Health comes first.
7. Wear something that makes you feel good
Yes this means wearing your pyjamas if being comfortable is what you need. And yes this means putting on your sharpest outfit if you have to leave the house. Put on whatever armour you need. If that is a suit and tie do it, if it’s your comfiest tracksuit bottoms and well-washed t-shirt do it. Just being in what you’re okay in just makes everything else a little bit easier.
8. Listen to music
This, almost above anything is potentially the one thing that I jump to when I am not doing okay. Music helps me to feel something, especially when I am not feeling anything at all. Music can also help interrupt the constant stream of negative words running through your head. Make a playlist of all the songs that get you fighting, the ones that make you want to pull on a pair of boots and a leather jacket. Make a playlist of all the songs that make you cry, the quiet ones and the sad ones. Listen to them when you need to. If that’s playing in the car on the way to school or work to give yourself the courage to know that you can do it. Or whether that’s playing them late at night when your thoughts are too loud and you can’t sleep. Whatever helps you do it. Music is one things that really can help.
9. Ask for help
I know the other points on this list have been things you can do but if things aren’t changing and your mental ill-health is affecting your relationships, work or school then you might benefit from seeing your doctor and asking for some help. There is no shame in asking for help and there are multiple avenues that you can explore with the doctor, whether that is medication or talking therapies or online therapy. It is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. It might take several tries before something works and that’s okay. You always deserve to get the help you need.
10. Add it to your bank of bad days
This is something I have unashamedly stolen from ‘Reasons to Stay Alive‘ by Matt Haig which is a great book that everyone should read, go read it. Here is an excerpt from the chapter ‘The Bank of Bad Days‘ –
“Bad days come in degrees. They are not equally bad. And the really bad ones, though horrible to live through, are useful for later. You store them up. A bank of bad days… … So if you are having another bad day you can say, Well this feels bad, but there have been worse.”
This has helped me immeasurably and it’s something that my best friend says to me each time I cry-text her when I’m having a bad day. Each day you get through you have survived and you learned something. Every bad day teaches you how to get through the next one. There’s the day you had a panic attack after seeing one of your now favourite films at the cinema. There’s the day that you went into college and came home after one lesson. There’s the day you couldn’t bear to leave your room and the day you wanted it all to end and the day you sat and cried. Each and every one of the bad days teaches you that you can do this.
I hope that anyone who has had the endurance to read all the way to the end has found something here that helps. Having a mental illness, or mental ill-health is and has never been anything to be ashamed of, no matter what anyone, including yourself, might say. I believe in you. You got this.